Texas Drive Inn turns 55; celebration planned for Saturday
Nov. 15, 2011 at 5:15 a.m.
Updated Nov. 16, 2011 at 5:16 a.m.
If Victoria's Texas Drive Inn staffers appear right at home behind the counters, it's no coincidence. For many in the family-owned business, it's where they grew up.
And that makes this week a homecoming of sorts.
Wednesday marks the Texas Drive Inn's 55th anniversary calling Victoria home.
The restaurant got its start Nov. 16, 1956, with a couple of Flatonia natives, some elbow grease and help from the family.
Bohumil "Henry" Vrana Sr. and Cecilia Vrana had worked in restaurants before but never operated their own, said Margaret Vrana, who co-owns the eatery with her siblings.
Regardless, it didn't keep them from their dream.
They opened at 1707 Port Lavaca Drive as one of about three restaurants in town, said David Vrana, the company's president and general manager.
The children learned the business early on, standing tippy-toe behind the register, peeling potatoes and serving up orders with smiles.
"We learned customer service and didn't even realize that's what we were doing," said Margaret, who began helping about age 7. "We just knew it was fun to go out there and talk with the public."
With parents who first worked picking cotton and then began a fledgling restaurant business, David said each child knew the value of hard work but sometimes felt deprived of social lives.
"We were always working," David said. "It helped us become who we are now."
The children also learned respect and kindness for those they served.
At times, Margaret said, children ordered ice cream but found they didn't have the money to pay for it. Rather than embarrassing the youngsters, the owners kindly told them not to worry about it.
"Usually, the kids would come back the next day, asking if they could do anything to help out around the restaurant," she said. "They wanted to pay it back. That really hit home with us."
The family later opened another location on Port Lavaca Drive before transitioning to its current locations, 607 S. Laurent St. and 3701 N. Ben Wilson St.
Although buildings changed, the menu remained much the same.
Hamburgers, onion rings and gizzards are longtime staples, the owners said, and the crew still prepares food much like it did in the beginning.
French fries come frozen now, but otherwise, chicken tenders come from chicken breasts, David said, while crews bread onion rings and gizzards by hand.
"Your hands start turning into quick dough," Margaret said with a chuckle about the flour mixture. "And it never fails. You'll wash your hands, and another order comes in."
Mikki Juarez and her 11-year-old daughter, Myca Ramirez, ventured to the restaurant Friday for a quick meal and a chance to spend time with one another. Juarez, a longtime customer, said the gizzards and business owners keep her coming back.
"I like them and their attitudes," she said. "They're friendly and fast. It's good business."
Although Margaret noted that salads made it to the menu in recent years, David was quick to add that no one was likely to mistake the eatery for a place to find health food fare.
"It ain't gonna be healthy for you," he said with a smile. "But it's good for you."
Other aspects also changed with time.
As the number of restaurants grew, so did competition. Margaret said she believes food prep and freshness are key in keeping up, while Mary Ann Janacek, another sibling, said the family atmosphere also helps.
Technological updates came with time, the siblings said, explaining they first learned to calculate orders in their heads, without the calculators and computers that now aid in everyday life.
Later came updated registers, a company website and even a Facebook account to give the Drive Inn an online presence.
"You have to stay on top of things," David said. "If you don't, you're lost."
The family admits that 55 years is a substantial milestone, and plans to celebrate Saturday with giveaways, discounted menu items and more. Vendors donated food for the day, David said, explaining money made from specials will go to the Food Bank of the Golden Crescent.
"We wanted to give back," he said. "The community has always supported us, and we want to do what we can."
Margaret said she and her counterparts are proud of the anniversary and know their parents would be, too. She said they hope to continue on, offering the same food and service they have for five-and-a-half decades.
"This is still our baby," Margaret said. "I think it always will be."